Hospital Or Birth Center, What’s The Difference?

by | January 16, 2018

What is the difference between a hospital and a birth center?


If you’re like most expectant parents in the United States, you can probably easily conjure up mental images of a hospital labor and delivery ward. Most Americans of childbearing age were born in hospitals, and most of us have grown up seeing hospital births represented in the media. More recently, social media has expanded our cultural consciousness to include idyllic, often romanticized images of home birth. However, there is a third and often overlooked birth option: the freestanding birth center.

According to the American Association of Birth Centers, birth centers are “health care facilit[ies] for childbirth where care is provided in the midwifery and wellness model.” The AABC code of ethics also emphasizes shared decision-making between caregivers and patients. While hospitals generally approach birth from an illness model, birth centers approach birth as a normal, physiological process in healthy, low-risk women. This is not to say this kind of care is impossible to find in hospitals, but it is specifically built into the birth center model.


Birth centers can be a happy compromise for families who want the homelike setting of a home birth but with quicker access to the full range of medical technology. Thirty percent of birth centers are within five minutes of their associated “back-up” hospital, and most are within fifteen minutes of a back-up hospital. It is important to ask about transfer times at your individual birth center.  All AABC birth centers are required to be equipped for newborn resuscitation, to provide timely referrals to hospitals, to have IV fluids available, and to have local numbing agents for repairing lacerations. Although basic medical equipment is available, the rooms usually look more like a bedroom than a hospital room. Patients are usually encouraged to wear their own comfortable clothing instead of a hospital gown.


While birth centers can be an excellent option for some healthy, low-risk women, they are not an ideal option for everyone. Because birth centers do not offer epidural anesthesia, they are not an appropriate option for women who plan to request pharmacological pain relief. A hospital is the best birth location for mothers who know they want an epidural.

Birth centers are equipped for low-risk women and low-risk pregnancies.

Because of this they do not have the equipment or staff to administer anesthesia. This means birth centers must maintain relationships with local hospitals in case a birth center client requires an emergency c-section or other high-technology intervention. It is a good idea to visit the hospital associated with your birth center so you will know what to expect in the event of a transfer.


Because birth centers do not offer epidural anesthesia, midwives and nurses are highly experienced with non-medical pain relief techniques. There is usually a strong emphasis on childbirth education, and clients are often required to attend classes on comfort techniques for unmedicated birth. Doulas are usually encouraged and welcome at birth center births to aid with comfort techniques, and many birth centers have Jacuzzi tubs available for hydrotherapy. In rare cases, birth centers offer laughing gas [nitrous oxide] to provide relief during contractions.


Wherever you choose to give birth, the most important thing is that you feel safe, comfortable, and supported. For some people, they find their peace of mind in a hospital with the full range of medical technology just moments away. For some, peace is found in the familiarity and comfort of their own home. For others, there is comfort in the home-like atmosphere of a birth center with some basic technology available and a hospital usually minutes away. Remember: there is no one ideal place or way to give birth, only ideal places and ways for you and your individual pregnancy.

I wish you the best of luck on your vegan pregnancy and parenting journey.


Meghan Beck. Meghan is a mother, doula, and psychology student from the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania. She lives with her husband, their hilarious vegan toddler, three pet rats, two rescued dogs, and one gecko. Meghan is a long-time word nerd, and she once tied for 25th in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook or her Website.



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